Interface design critique: iTunes 11

The D5 Graphic Design Blog.

Frequenters of this blog will know that I, like many designers, am an Apple lover but you have my word, I’ll try not to let that cloud my vision.

Apple, what took you so long? Your self imposed deadline of the end of october was missed by a margin, rumoured release dates of the 11th and 16th of november were also massively missed. I’l forgive you though.

The fundamentals

iTunes 11 was finally released on the 29th of november and I’m sure that the majority of people reading this will have already downloaded the shiny new app and begun to use it. If not then there’s almost no doubt that you have used previous versions of iTunes, I say this because, design-wise  not much has changed, if you are familiar with iTunes 1 to 10 then you are definitely going to be familiar with iTunes 11. Some may say this is a ‘safe move’ on Apples part but as my mother always taught me; ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. An immediately apparent change however is the extended use of album artwork.

Psychology, coffee and music

One of the most dramatic changes for me when digitising my music library was the distint removal of interaction between myself and the format in which the music was delivered. Humans like to interact with the things they love, we like to take time and care with something if it means a lot to us. For me it’s coffee, dissatisfied with simply getting out a spoon and shovelling in a pile of freeze dried rocks, I take time to prepare and clean the cafetiere and carefully carry out the process, it sounds sad but it’s one of the things that encourages me to leave the comfort of my bed every morning. This used to be the case with music, the creaky CD case and glossy booklet added to the pleasure of listening to music, not just the tracks themselves but the experience and the ritual. The digital revolution has made music accessible, quick and easy, I believe this has both good and bad side effects. To some the ritual of playing music has bypassed them entirely, this could be seen as a bad thing, but let’s face it CD’s we’re a bit rubbish, plasticy and false. For those of us who cherish the ritual, we have turned back to vinyl which is the complete opposite, it feels genuine, it’s inaccessible as turntables, speakers, EQ’s, mixers etc are all now expensive, specialist pieces of equipment, sure you can pick up those pretend retro themed all in one systems, but what’s the point in that if you’re trying to experience to benefits of vinyl? My point is, iTunes 11’s further integration of album art respects our desire to interact with the aesthetic side of listening to music.

But what’s that feathered edge all about?

A great implication of this embrace and nostalgia of album artwork is the way that iTunes slides open the tracks on an album, it identifies the key colour of the album artwork and creates a nice background for the tracks, moreover it selects a complimentary colour for the track times and numbers. This is a very nice feature indeed. Apart from the horrible feathered edge on the album artwork itself. Seriously, why would you do that? This is the sort of thing low-end web designers would implement, the kind of annoying rookie ‘cool piece of code’ in the same league as autoplay music on a website or dodgy pop-up navigation. Code isn’t human and therefore cannot judge how the final result will appear. A decision such as this can result in beautiful interface on some albums but a horrible murky, grungy, smeared look on other albums. C’mon Apple, it would be fine to use the colours and have the artwork simply there, as an image, in it’s original format not smeared across the screen like bird excrement on a windscreen.

I may not have covered everything

I have to admit, I got distracted by the romantic idealism with regards to the relationship and experience of playing music. However I feel this notion carries across the whole design of iTunes 11, the overall philosophy of the design is covered, it would be pointless for me to mention how it has buttons that lead to the right places and call it ‘non-ambiguous navigation’ of course it does. It’s Apple, they kinda know what they’re doing.


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